On the 14th of July 2016 The Duchess of Cornwall held a reception at Clarence House inviting victims, high profile ambassadors and celebrity guests including Sir Patrick Stewart, Julie Walters and Alesha Dixon. At the event The Duchess urged society to challenge the ‘corrosive’ silence that surrounds domestic abuse today.
She said ‘Domestic abuse remains a hidden problem in our society. It is characterised by silence – silence from those who suffer, silence from those around them and silence from those who perpetrate abuse. ‘This silence is corrosive: It leaves women, children – and men – carrying the burden of shame, it prevents them from speaking out about their abuse and it prevents them from getting help. And at its worst, it can be fatal.’
Each year 2.1 million people in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse – 1.4 million women, the equivalent of 8.5 per cent of the population, and 700,000 men. At the event I asked Sir Patrick Stewart what had inspired him to become a patron of a domestic abuse charity and he said it took him decades to talk about what he had suffered growing up witnessing his mother being abused by his father and he said that he felt ‘ashamed’ to talk about it and that is exactly what so many victims feel, shame. Although they are not responsible for the violence, or the behaviour of another human being they still feel ashamed and embarrassed. When Patrick was young, domestic abuse didn’t get the same response which it garners now and the same services were not available for victims and children. I believe passionately about prevention and education, we need to educate our young people on healthy relationships on consent and to learn to respect each other and we also need to ensure that we offer support to the whole family.
We have been fortunate to get funding from Comic Relief and Children in Need and have been delivering educational programmes in schools, colleges and youth services in BWD for the past 4 years and have reached thousands of young people in doing so, we have also been supporting young people who have witnessed or directly suffered abuse through a whole range of therapeutic programmes and 1:1 work. Young people witnessing abuse often try to intervene to protect the abused parent or try and protect themselves and in every home where abuse is happening they suffer and the effects are long lasting unless support is provided.
Julie Walters who is a patron of Women’s Aid told me that she is asked constantly to support good causes and when she was asked to support victims of abuse how could she refuse, she said it was unimaginable to her that women can live in abusive relationships and if she could support in some way she wanted to do it.
The Duchess in her speech expressed that victims of abuse are ‘some of the bravest women I have been privileged to meet’, adding how ‘Their silence was broken – but only after a tragedy.’ It is difficult to disagree with that statement, as is the idea that those who find themselves in these horrible situations should hopefully be known as ‘victors not victims’.
We all need to work together to make this statement come true and end the silence that surrounds domestic abuse, for that we need to create a healthy environment for victims to express what has happened to them and events like these ensure that the right steps are being taken for this to happen.